Who hasn’t struggled with creating a plot? Heck, even I don’t put my hand up for that one. Writers agonize over plot creation all the time. Some look everywhere for inspiration, while others purchase software that generates ideas at the push of a button. They shell out hundreds, only to get generic outlines already patented by Hollywood, thinking their book will be picked up for the next blockbuster.
The hell with it, I say. If a plotting system is so complex that there is a need for a computer guru to run it, then it is not worth the electrons used to store it in memory.
Okay, there is only one real plot out there that works, and then there are the derivatives of said plot. Here it is. Are you ready?
Boy meets girl Boy loses girl Boy is reunited with girl (or not).
Honestly, think of all the stories you’ve read and tell me I’m lying.
Okay, there are derivatives of the plot, like:
Boy finds ring Boy loses ring Boy is reunited with ring (or not).
Sound familiar? It’s Lord of the Rings. Get off your high horse, Saruman.
Okay, so boy represents a character and ring the girl or object of desire.
Want a story that is longer? Just repeat the pattern and add in more characters. Take the above example of Lord of the Rings. Aragorn wanted the elven maiden Arwen, so there is a sub-plot hidden there. He also secretly wants the crown, and the narrative shows that as an underlying desire.
Within the story is the on-again off-again plot of Frodo and the ring, but the main part thrust is Gollum who found the ring, lost the ring, then did get it back just as he died.
Not convinced yet?
Boromir plays a part in the first book and his plot line comes to the fore as he finds Frodo, loses him, finds him again and loses his life protecting him. Same plot as the initial with a little twist.
This plot outline fits all the characters, including Sam.
You don’t want the reader to see the exact same plot throughout the novel or they’ll wonder why they are reading such drivel. The fix is easy enough. Give the object they desire an illustrative significance.
Illustrative means two or more things at the same time. The imperative of Sex means not only the survival of the species, but also, one’s own immortality.
Bang! More meat on the bone now.
Want a book packed with the illustrative? Moby Dick. Ahab represents Mankind, the whale, Christ. Ahab is the soldier who spears Christ and the destruction of Ahab’s ship is the ruin of Mankind deprived of Christ.
Let’s go back to The Lord of the Rings. The ring represents evil, Frodo, the struggle of Mankind against evil, Gollum, the id of man wanting everything, and the other characters represent the good and bad in us all. Each has their own little mini-plot for what they do.
Emotion and the Story
A story would be really boring if there were no emotion. Emotion is what drives the characters and makes the yarn believable.
Emotion is generated by conflict, either the start of it or the end. The good news is that we already have conflict in our plot: boy loses girl. What could be more emotional than that (or more wracked with such conflict)?
We just have to get our characters to show their responses to the conflict. They’ll do it in a particular order, if they’re human:
* First they feel it—His heart thundered in his chest at the loss of her.
* Then they think about it—In desperation, he planned to find her.
* Last they take action—The journey started, and with a pack slung over his shoulder, he took the first step.
With emotion, it is best to keep it simple: love, hate, anger, remorse
Slow It Down!
You cannot maintain the rollercoaster of emotion throughout the story. Take a little breather and put in something a little slower, so your reader can recoup.
Some call them comfort breaks, while others call them reminiscences. Call them what you will, just make sure you have them in the story or your reader will feel like they are on a treadmill of unending exercise. Seen The Biggest Loser? There is a reason they don’t keep those people running and jumping all day long. You need to relax those muscles and let them heal. Same goes for the mind. Let the reader relax a little and recoup from that marathon of emotion you just slapped them with.
Be poetic, summarize, or just reminisce about what happened. Remember, you need to keep the reader interested and not tired after reading.
Here is an example of how to do it:
* Lear reviews his kingdom, the Object of his Desire, and decides there is no longer a desire
* Lear gives the kingdom away to his nasty daughters
* Lear loses his kingdom, but is reunited with it. He thus gains the ultimate Object of Desire, insight, and his soul (or does he?).
Yes, a lot of distractions happen with the mixing of sub-plots, causing the story of King Lear to be complex and emotional. It draws on the same basic idea of found, lost, found again.
Look forward to the future of your writing. How many stories you have dreamed of or plotted, and discovered the underlying reason for the character’s motives? Do they fit the basic of a great story? Find, lose, find?
Down the Rabbit Hole
Not really, but look at another great story that recently hit the screen: The Martian, by Andy Weir.
Stop! I hear that. What do you mean it matches the basic outline? There was no girl!
Yes, but think about it. Comrades lost and found again. He started with a group of astronauts, lost them (they left him behind), and found them again. Through the movie (and book) he found stuff (potatoes), lost them, and found them again (yes, read the book and you’ll understand what I mean by that). The whole novel centers on losing and finding. NASA lost him, found him, lost him, found him. Read it, don’t watch the movie, and you’ll see what I mean.
Need another one?
The old Total Recall: He lost his memory and then found it. He had to have it before to lose it. Also, he had love, lost it, and found it again.
So, I wanted to take a moment and address what we need to do to make the Starting Point a big deal for 2017. This year, at the SPACE show (which is just a few weeks away as I write this), I will be presenting the very first official Inductee to the Hall of Fame. This person was only voted on by myself and a few advisors whom I consulted with the idea of doing it. We don’t have official guidelines and the data I presented in the Starting Point book is very much a structure I put in place on my own.
This isn’t exactly how I envision the Hall of Fame operating moving forward. What we need is a panel of people interested in preserving and honoring the history of small press. We need this panel to vote on official guidelines, and then we need to set up so eligible publishers can then be voted on by the general membership of the Self Publisher Association. That is paramount to really making this mean something.
I continue to struggle with the disparity between people saying this is a great idea, a needed thing, and something they love to see happening…and the amount of actual volunteer activity that has helped make it happen. As in, I did everything with no help, even though I continue to beg and plead for more people to help. I understand that this type of Hall of Fame does not have any sort of operational budget. We’re going to be struggling to get the recognition and support it needs, but I cannot stress enough, that I can’t do this by myself. That if everyone is waiting for me to build this, the wait is going to get longer and longer.
One of the things I am going to try to accomplish is the creation of some basic pages to present the HOF online. So far, I have not had time to build that. In the meantime, we need publishers to fill in the information needed to have a solid record of who did what when. It costs nothing to care enough to fill out a form so that we have the information needed to create a historical record of your work. All you have to do is go to a web page…
Spreading the word and talking about the effort costs nothing but a little time. If you have any interest in seeing this work continue, your speaking up and speaking about it, really will help. Look, I don’t want to put this on the back burner again. I did that when Small Press Idol took off and I had to shift my focus. We dropped the Small Press Trading Cards, we stopped doing calendars… All of those things can be brought back, but we need to work together as a group to do so. Do what you can…but do something. We can build something significant if we try. But we have to get talking first as well.
I mentioned in the opening editorial that I will be starting up doing reviews in the magazine. Hopefully, I will have some publications in and be able to start next issue. I will do everything in my power to get as many books reviewed as are released and sent to us. I will be employing a short review format, giving a basic “Is this book worth buying? If not, what needs improving?” type of review. The part of this that I did not get into up front, was what else we can do with the review entry.
It takes exactly the same amount of work to enter a book into our shopping cart system, as it does to just do a review. And it takes exactly as much time to put in an external URL to where the publisher has the book for sale as it would for us to have the book available for direct sale at our website. We also can allow members to have their own site with products that also appear in our shopping system.
So, this raises a number of questions about how we can grow this. Right now, I am only adding books to forward to publisher’s choice of URL, so no matter if it’s their own site, Comixology, Drive-Thru or Indyplanet, we can list it, people can find it, and they can go get it. To add these other layers will take some structuring of a new distribution model, one that accomodates ANY choice, need, or whim of the publisher, while still maintaining a single source of SHOPPING for the customer. One place to find out about books, no matter how they are available. If I open up to allow shoppers to download other people’s books from the main “global” shopping cart, all I have to do is set what rate I want to keep. (I am thinking just 5%, because I want as much profit to go to the publisher as possible. I would use the 5% for hosting. Data space and transfer is fairly cheap; I think 5% will cover it.) I would keep track of those sales, make reports available, and allow publishers to use their profits on account have them paid out on request, etc.
I have already set up publisher-controlled sites; they’re available now. It costs $5 a year for an SPA membership, and you can have a site, upload your own books, and make physical copies available (more on printing in a sec), etc., any way you want. The cart will collect 1% from each transaction to send to Dimestore, for the same reason as the 5% above… but since there is no work done on our part past software maintenance, we’re leaving more profit for the publisher. People can also upgrade their sites to include more software for a little more, but $5 a year is pretty good for a website you can do anything with. That is also membership-wise, networked with peers and the whole Indyfest thing. We are truly building our own social media center. Printing. No matter what the digital revolution does, people still want physical copies, and collecting does not seem to be going away. POD printing makes it easier to have printed copies of publications available to sell at shows, and maybe, to a number of stores you develop relationships and audiences with. Real distribution on a profitable scale is a much harder animal to crack. Right now, you have Diamond. So, yeah. I have run printing for other publishers in the past, and have no intention of rejoining that fray myself, though I would love to find a partner solution that can handle both individual sale and ship-to situations for Indyfest and its members, as well as larger drop-ship to retailers, in a way that will enable us to build a real alternative to Diamond.
I have hopes to get into real talks with King Chan and his Underground Distribution Catalog project, which… didn’t get funded on Kickstarter, and I’m unclear of its status right now. Developing a full system that handles both digital delivery and store delivery of physical copies, that has a promotional magazine to introduce the new to the readers, and carries a new and back issue catalog of what’s available, one that works for customers AND retailers… It’s doable, but it will be tough, and it needs the right people doing the right things.
I have seen a hundred efforts come and go, and have been in the middle of or running a number of them myself. I know what can work and what won’t. Our collective goal should be to have this all be run at a level that puts the publishers first, because if they can’t survive financially, the coolest comics will just disappear. I’ve seen it happen, time and again. That or they get involved with bigger publishers and become corporate, which hey, more power to them, but it certainly isn’t Indy anymore.
Without a small press, introductory level, hobby level, we all lose out. If it’s be pro out the gate or be laughed at, then we have no community. It becomes a good ol’ boys’ club and that’s bad. We must champion learning, growth, and acceptance of newcomers.
Point of this article: We’re going to be working on new developments. We hope you will get behind them and help them succeed, for all the right reasons, and for the good of all. To get into the review system, start here:
I should really keep better track of our own deadlines. As it turns out, the minute I released last issue, I had to start digging into this one. As such, we’re not going to have any new releases for the New Releases feature, so I’ll forgo trying to scrounge any, and just work towards the thought I had when I finished the first one: It would not be very much more work to add a quick review to each new listing the way I set it up… And so, what I am going to do NEXT issue, is officially bring back the Review section. We haven’t had one in years; we drifted away from it when Review Manager Wade Busby stopped communicating. (We didn’t find out for a while that Wade had actually passed away. We continue to miss him hugely.)
I figure I will be able to handle reviews to start, but if anyone out there wants to carve themselves out a position with Indyfest and move into the role, we are going into an active recruiting cycle. We need more writers actively participating with Indyfest, as the level of people wanting to be IN the magazine is continuing to rise, while the waitlist is getting longer. We have not yet launched the funding program that we are going to use to introduce paid positions into the magazine; this is still a wholly volunteer effort, and is something I have never actually made a penny doing. Our whole goal and function is to get new eyes onto new work from Indy creators, I have taken everything that has ever come in from advertisements and spent it on improving the magazine and getting more people to read it. But we’re going to get this funding program going very soon and up our game. To cover more creators, and do it well, and in a timely way that meets the creator’s needs, we have to.
And let’s look at reality. It took me extra time last issue to complete it, due to my having had surgery (Which went very well; I am recovering well, and should be able to walk around at SPACE in a couple weeks without much trouble). However, I had very little time between issues to do any website work. I took a few days, just because there were important maintenance things that had to be done. I didn’t really get any work done on improvements or the template work I need to do. So, I’ll be back in layouts and then release work for the next two weeks or so—more time not getting anything big done. We NEED a layouts guy. Someone I can train on the free software we use—who can then take over some of these things that trip up our progress. I have considered intern programs, but looking into those takes time, too. I just can’t seem to get the time I need to set up things that will save time, so that this Indyfest Network thing can become all it can be.
And I know no one wants to do it for free, even though I have for decades, as something that someone had to do. I want to set up so people can be compensated and we can grow. But we need some volunteers to get us over the hump. Everyone is so busy with their own work and real life, it’s way too easy to think, “Well, someone will keep the Indy scene covered.” But look around. Is there another magazine doing what we do? Are Comixology, Amazon, Indyplanet supporting your career? Doing everything they can to help you win new fans? Is social media all you need to succeed? I know Kickstarter,etc., are making it possible to get publishing funds…but even they rely on YOU to already have support. We need a better way, please consider sending me an email, and help me help everyone. [email protected]
The table looked more like a gathering of undertakers than a comic book convention booth. Intrigued, I got closer and noticed that the prophet spearheading this black-clad cult was Dirk “I scream” Manning from Hell, Michigan. He was front and center, graciously greeting, and testifying to the horrors trapped between the two covers of his books. This man’s approach was different and he certainly stood out from the other creators, who were also promoting their wares at this, the C4 comic-con, one of the largest in his home state. But what was it that made this creator stand out in a sea of creators? Was it the black attire accented with the clean-cut, slicked-back hairstyle? Or was it that he was readily available to anyone who wanted to hear his testimony of terror, never taking a back seat behind the books? This guy walked and talked the part of a true creative professional and you could tell this was not his first rapture. He not only knew how to market himself, but he was also teaching others the dark arts as well—and that, my friends, is what drew me into the faith of the Dirk Ages.
IM: Having met you in person several times, you seem very generous, hospitable, and easy to be around. So why, when you put pen to paper, does such terrific terror come out? Why such horror?
DM: I get that a lot. [laughs]
I really am a pretty nice person—but I’m also a very, very avid fan of good horror… and the key here is the qualifier in that statement: GOOD horror. I’m not a “blood and boobies” guy, and I think it’s unfortunate that this is the image a lot of people associate with horror— especially when, in many ways, the same can be said of action movies, too, for example… with the possible exception of such a sexualization of violence, which, again, is equally debatable as being seen just as much in other genres of entertainment, and not something we have the time to discuss now anyway. [laughs]
My point being, GOOD horror is ultimately about the human condition. GOOD horror asks (and sometimes answers) the question “What would you do if…?” That, to me, is a fascinating question that is best—and oftentimes most profoundly—answered in the horror genre.
IM: If you were to think back to when you first conceived Mr. Rhee, what would you attribute as his driving inspiration?
DM: The loss of someone VERY close to me that taught me the most important lesson of all:
“Some monsters can’t be punched.”
IM: Rumor has it you are starting a Kickstarter for Volume 3 of Tales of Mr. Rhee. Are you at liberty to discuss any details of when you plan on launching it? What do you hope to accomplish with this Kickstarter?
DM: Kickstarter has been a wonderful way for me to be able to have my work directly funded by the people who are most enthusiastic about my work, while also hooking up this segment of my readership with all kinds of cool bonus swag.
The first two volumes of Tales of Mr. Rhee resulted in almost $40,000 in pre-sales, while also allowing me to give a lot of extra-cool exclusive rewards to my direct supporters… so, yeah, I’ll definitely be using Kickstarter again for Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 3 this April. I mean, it offers a win-win for everyone involved, you know? [laughs]
To that end, my goal with this campaign is to do the same thing I did with the first two campaigns— especially the second one: Offer people who pre-order the book through Kickstarter an exclusive hardcover edition of the book, as well as a slew of cool Kickstarter Exclusive stretch goal rewards and swag.
IM: What are some of your planned goals and prizes for this Kickstarter? I know you have permitted people to become characters in your books previously. This is such a fun concept and motivator for people to participate in the crowdfunding. Are you planning anything similar for this campaign?
DM: One of the greatest honors for horror fans is to be killed in the book, so that’s something I’ll offer again, for sure… although I also continue to offer cameo roles that allow people to appear in the books without being brutally ripped apart by a demon or something. [laughs]
That aside, a lot of Tales of Mr. Rhee revolves around things happening in coffee shops—the coffee shop “Dirk’s Perk,” to be exact—so… expect to see some really (RHEE-ly?) cool rewards centered around that, for sure.
IM: I love where Mr. Rhee’s story is going. This is a series that grabs you from the first book you read, regardless of which issue it is. The post-rapture world that these characters fumble through is intriguing, yet horrific, to say the least. I think one of my favorite series was in Volume 2, issue 2. We not only meet a host of angels and masked superhero types of characters, but we also get a great scene of Cthulhu inflicting havoc on Megalopolis. Will you be revisiting any of these characters in the future? Do you plan on exploring the Great Sleeper himself more in pages to come? All hail Cthulhu!
DM: Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn to you as well, my friend! May the faithful be eaten by our great tentacled overlord first, so that we will be spared the madness sure to engulf all mankind when the stars once more enter their proper alignment and the sleeper rises from the sunken city in R’lyeh!
Was that a clear enough answer? [laughs]
Crypticness aside, let me just say this: I didn’t introduce the storyline involving Cthulhu and The Jovian from my other comic series Nightmare World into the pages of Tales of Mr. Rhee just for window dressing. There’s a big plan in place and seeing them both pop up in small(ish) roles in both Volumes 1 and 2 was a reminder—and, perhaps, a little bit of a tease—that there’s still some unfinished business with them both from the Nightmare World plot that will eventually be definitely concluded in Tales of Mr. Rhee.
Like the great writer Anton Chekhov once said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
Well, there’s no bigger gun—or guns, in this case—than a superhero and a giant octopus-headed demi-god who seemingly killed each other in a battle at the end of the world… and while I can say that The Jovian is absolutely, unquestionably dead (as discussed in the character handbook at the end of the Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 1 trade paperback), the story between these two isn’t over yet… but it will be finished before—or, I daresay, as—Tales of Mr. Rhee reaches its natural conclusion, as well.
IM: I’m willing to bet you write way ahead of your stories. Can you give us any hints on what is in the future for Mr. Rhee?
DM: I planted seeds for pretty much everything that’s going to happen throughout the course of the series in the thirteen stories that comprise Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 1: “Procreation (of the Wicked)”, so savvy readers can go back to that volume and, perhaps, start to extrapolate what’s coming.
For example, remember how in the first story—and then later, in Chapter Four—we learn that Mr. Rhee won’t kill kids? We saw the reason for that explained in the prequel story that was Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 2: “Karmageddon.”
As you mentioned, we saw hints of both Cthulhu and The Jovian in Volume 1, and we saw a bit more of that storyline unfold in Tales of Mr. Rhee Volume 2, as well. And, as I just alluded to, we’ll be returning to that even more at some point.
We also finally caught a glimpse of how psychotic Thelma Lushkin has become in Chapter 8 of Volume 1, and we then saw that in much more detail in the closing pages of Issue #2 of Volume 3… and that’s something that’s going to factor in more and more as the series goes on, as Thelma Lushkin, her demonic bodyguard/lover William, and Dumashine Enterprises are going to be revealed to be major villainous factors in the series—sort of the yin to the yang of The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group.
The biggest elephant in the room is probably Jack Faust and Ranobus, though… who could easily (and rightfully) be seen as Mr. Rhee’s arch-enemy. Volume 4 is going to see the return of Faust/Ranobus (Faustobus?) as he’s none too happy that Mr. Rhee was freed from the prison he was left in at the end of Volume 1.
IM: It all began with Nightmare World, and now we see another installment on the horizon. What are you planning for Volume 4? What is up your sleeve for this one?
DM: I’m so excited that, at long last, I’m going to be able to bring Nightmare World Volume 4 to print, hence bringing the series to its natural conclusion. This has probably been the book of mine people across the country (at least) have been waiting more for than anything else, so I know that this one has to deliver… and it will.
In Nightmare World, each volume contains thirteen stand-alone genre-hopping horror stories that all weave into one giant uber-story about Lucifer awakening Cthulhu to kick-start the second war with Heaven. While, due to the way that we structured the release and order of the stories in the first three volumes published by Image Comics, that uber-story reaches a natural ending… there’re also a few plot-threads that could use a bit more resolution and that’s one of the things we’re going to be doing in Nightmare World Volume 4… while also sticking with that same formula of thirteen stand-alone (yet ultimately connected), genre-hopping, eight-page horror stories that will rest in your psyche long after you’ve read them, as all the best scary short stories should.
Oh… and we’re also talking about simultaneously releasing a Nightmare World Omnibus collecting all four volumes together in one giant hardcover. Keep an eye on Kickstarter come October for that… [laughs]
IM: Have you any special guest artist planned for the next Nightmare World?
DM: A lot of the Nightmare World Volume 4 stories have been done for years, but one of the perks of waiting a while before publishing the final volume has been being able to take a step back and look at some of the stories through a fresh set of eyes, so to speak. To that end, I’m tickled to say that, along with bringing back a lot of the “classic” Nightmare World artists such as Josh Ross, Seth Damoose, Austin McKinley, Leonard O’Grady, and Jeff Welborn to the fold, I’m now going to be able to invite artists like Dan Dougherty (Beardo, Touching Evil), Howie Noel (Tara Normal), and Marianna Pescosta (Tales of Mr. Rhee), and John Marroquin (El Mariachi) to the party… and really, we’re all the better for it.
Nightmare World has always been such an ambitious, passionate, and exciting project that I’m honored to be able to open the doors to so many of my other creative partners and friends for the final huzzah on what I hope will be remembered as one of the best comic book horror anthologies ever created.
IM: Are you planning any other projects outside of the Nightmare World or Tales of Mr. Rhee universes?
DM: Absolutely. Nightmare World Volume 4 is going to be the last official Nightmare World release, although it obviously shares a “universe” with Tales of Mr. Rhee, which will be continuing for the foreseeable future, although that series also has a natural ending at some point way down the road that we’re always moving towards.
While I—like so many readers— love the Nightmare World and Tales of Mr. Rhee universes, there are other worlds to be created and stories to be told. People should start to see their first glimpse of those in 2017, latest.
IM: I would consider myself a fan of Nightmare World and an avid follower of Tales of Mr. Rhee, but your book that’s had the greatest effect on me (as a creator) has been Write or Wrong: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Comics When I read it, I felt like you were talking right to me. You answered so many questions and touched on so many topics that I still reference and recommend it today. In answering many of the burning questions that creators in general have asked themselves at one time or another, it seems you may have created a whole new set of questions (for me, at least, anyways). Since I have the chance to pick apart your occipital cortex, I would like to touch on a couple topics. The first being a fan base question: As someone who has been down that road, what would you say draws in more of a crowd for a new creator looking to not only build a fan base, but also publish their story? Would you suggest going to web series first, doing small print runs, or both?
DM: With the prevalence and relative ease with which one can publish comics both online as well as through print-on-demand services, at this point there’s no reason not to do both. Be everywhere, you know? Be everywhere and give readers numerous entry-points and means of accessing your work.
IM: Do you find publishers are just as likely to pick up a series that started off web-based, or do you see publishers steering away from publications that have already been released to the public in a free-to-read format?
DM: Now, more than ever, publishers—especially publishers of creator-owned work— are interested in series— or creators—they know will sell books and move product.
Let me be brutally honest with you here: At least half of the reason Josh Blaylock of Devil’s Due picked-up Tales of Mr. Rhee was because he knew I was always out there online and at conventions selling my work. He’ll be the first to say that he was seeing me everywhere—always selling books—and that’s what made him interested in bringing me into his stable.
I’m not saying that Tales of Mr. Rhee isn’t a great book or that he didn’t think people would like it—because it is a great book (in my humble opinion) and a lot of people do like it—but that was only half the reason I he picked me up. There are a lot of people creating a lot of great books out there… but if you’re not doing anything to get the word out there about them—to the point where fans are responding to the work by buying it, mind you—then it’s going to be a lot tougher for you to convince a publisher to publish your books.
Conversely, let me add that there’re two sides to this scenario, though… and that’s asking what a publisher can do for you. A common misconception that a lot of aspiring creators have is that being signed by a publisher will automatically generate sales. Let me tell you and everyone reading this right now that this is unequivocally, unquestionably false.
Being signed with a publisher will not automatically mean you’re selling more books. To this end, you have to do your homework—and, perhaps, engage in some tough conversations with a potential publisher about what they can do for you to help you grow your brand and your audience. Ask not just what you can do for a publisher, but what a publisher can do for you.
IM: I know you are one to keep your stories and concepts a secret until published, but how do you go about submitting to publishers without giving away the farm, per se? Many publishers want to know the ins and outs of a story before they ever attempt to publish. Many new creators out there may be worried about getting their ideas stolen this way. Any useful tips on submitting to publishers that can still protect the creator’s ideas?
DM: Jim Valentino of Image Comics gave me some great advice on this topic that I share as frequently as possible: “Your editor is not your audience.”
In other words, your editor (or publisher) needs to make a decision on whether or not they are going to invest considerable time, effort, and resources into publishing your comic. To that end, they need to know everything about what you have planned and what will make your comic series appealing to readers—and vendors, for that matter.
It’s OK to play “hide the ball” with your existing readership—at least to an extent—but you should never do this with the people who you’re asking to publish your work. They need to know exactly what you have in mind, so they can make informed decisions about whether to move forward on the project or not.
As for ideas being stolen… honestly… if your idea for a story is so simple that it can be stolen by anyone who hears it, what’s the point in writing it? As a creator, you should be pitching stories that only you can execute well.
Sure, sure… there are occasionally those “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” concepts that almost anyone could write well—such as, with all due respect to Steve Niles, the concept of 30 Days of Night (in which all the vampires descend on Alaska and have a feast on the isolated townsfolk when there’s no sunlight for thirty days), but the fact that no one else ran with that seemingly “duh” idea before Mr. Niles is also testament to the fact that, really, he was the only one who could have written that “gimme” story concept, too.
So, that being said, don’t worry about other people stealing your ideas. Rather, strive to craft stories that are so well-done no one else could do them justice but you.
IM: As a writer with his tentacles in different publishers, do you prefer to loyally stick with one publisher, or do you like to play the field a little? Would you consider yourself a lone wolf? How do you view label loyalty in this field?
DM: See above: Ask not what you can do for a publisher, but ask instead what a publisher can do for you.
I have no problem being loyal to someone who I work well with, but at the end of the day, making comics needs to be a business if you’re going to do it in the long-term—and it’s important to ask yourself that question each and every time: Is this the right publisher for this project.
I’ve been very happy with my relationship with Devil’s Due for these past few years and look forward to continuing to work with them for years to come… but there will never come a day when I don’t ask myself that question before I pitch each and every new project.
IM: You have written some real, bone-gnawing, beautifully-gruesome comics in your day. As a horror writer, what scares you most? What is your greatest fear or worst nightmare?
DM: Thanks, dude! I think it’s hard to genuinely scare people using the comic book format, so I take that as quite a compliment!
My greatest fear and my worst nightmare are two different things. At the risk of coming close to closing this interview on a down-note, my greatest fear is probably dying alone and unmourned somewhere with no one giving a care about who I am and what I’ve done—both professionally and personally. It would mean everything I’d done in my life was for nothing.
My worst nightmare is a bit of an irrational one that I can never seem to understand. It’s being captured, trapped, and eaten alive by cannibals—not in a big orgy of violence, but rather piece by piece. First they take one arm, for example… then a few days later they take the next. Etc. That nightmare gives me the hibbily-jibblies every time… and I’m even getting a little queasy right now talking about it. I’m sure there’s a psychologist or someone out there who can make sense of it… but I haven’t met him or her yet. [laughs]
IM: If you could impart any one piece of final wisdom or advice to today’s generation of creators, based on your observations thus far, what would it be?
Chris Auerbach-Brown is an independent musician and Director of Programs at the Conservancy Cuyahoga National Valley Park:
This month, he takes time out of his busy schedule to talk to Indyfest about his work.
IM: What is your occupation at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga National Valley Park?
CAB: I am the Director of Programs at the Conservancy. I oversee and plan all of the Conservancy’s Cultural Arts events, which include music concerts, lectures, art gallery exhibits, and nature-focused programs.
IM: You recently received a grant for your music—can you tell us about that?
CAB: I was awarded a Creative Workforce Fellowship for the year 2016 by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The CWF is a program that directly connects artists in northeast Ohio to local communities by funding community-focused proposals from a variety of artistic disciplines—music, dance, visual art, etc. Forty artists were chosen this year and given a monetary award of $15,000 to fund their proposed projects.
My proposal entailed the creation of a new music ensemble that gives concerts in community centers and incorporates audience participation into the performances. Audience members become part of the ensemble, then in turn, the concerts are opened up to a larger community dialogue by a facilitator. The musical focus will be on ‘quiet’ sounds, or on giving each sound equal importance, its own ‘voice,’ so to speak.
IM: How many concerts are generally performed at the Conservancy in a year, and what types of performances are you looking to book this year?
CAB: We book about 30–35 concerts per year, in folk, bluegrass/newgrass, Americana, Celtic, Cajun, blues, and even Texas swing styles. We’re looking to expand our offerings a bit, to possibly include Afrobeat and other genres of world music.
IM: What type(s) of venue(s) is the conservancy? Is it audio only?
CAB: We perform music concerts at our main venues, Happy Days Lodge and the Hines Hill Conference Center. We also perform outdoor concerts at Howe Meadow in the summer. These shows feature performances by local bands. We can accommodate a video presentation, but our main focus for Cultural Arts events are music concerts.
IM: You are an independent musician. How did you start in the Cleveland scene and what instruments do you play?
CAB: I came to Cleveland in 1993 to pursue my masters degree in music composition at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I settled down here once I graduated, I got married, and started a family. I taught music theory and composition lessons for many years, and I play in a group called Trepanning Trio. I play alto sax, musical saw, udu, and melodica, and I throat sing. My main instruments are pencil and paper, however (I’m a composer by training).
IM: What types of gigs do you play/work?
CAB: Mostly experimental music gigs, but I also have my music performed at contemporary music concerts by other musicians in the area. But honestly, I’ll play anything I’m asked to.
IM: What are your favorite genres to write and have any been published?
CAB: I like writing anything, but I’m a composer, so the more experimental strains of music appeal to me most from a creative standpoint. I am published by the American Composers Alliance. I also write electronica from time to time.
IM: Do you have any advice for independent musicians who are looking to book a gig, or have a career as a musician playing at venues?
CAB: Work on your songwriting skills! I hear bands with excellent performers regularly, but the standout groups are the ones with original songs. Regarding booking, keep asking and don’t undersell yourself. Don’t play for free either; clubs that ask bands to play for free aren’t serious about presenting great music to their patrons. Sometimes playing for free is necessary, especially at a house concert or a similar situation where there’s no door charge, no bar selling alcohol and food, etc. But in general, avoid working ‘for the exposure.’
Troy Vevasis is a comic book creator and writer. He is the author of Vincent Price Presents: In The Shadows #1 published by Storm Comics. Troy has self-published seven full comics and three minicomics so far. He has also been included in the following anthologies: Indie Comics Magazine #9, Oh, Comics! #23 Music Edition, The Gatekeeper Files, Uncanny Adventures Duo #2, WitchWorks #2–4, Blokes Terrible Tomb Of Terror Magazine #13, Hallowscream #7, Megabook M4, and Santa’s Favorite Tales.
IM: How long have you been making comics?
TV: I have been making comics for four years.
IM: Was this something you always planned to do? How did you get into it?
TV: I was always a big fan of comics. When I was a teenager, I started writing short prose stories. I later saw many indy comics online and decided to learn how to write comic scripts. I prefer to write comics because it is a great medium to bring the stories to life.
IM: Who would you consider to be some of your main inspirations?
TV: Jeph Loeb and Roy Thomas are my favorite comic book writers. Edgar Allen Poe and Robert E. Howard have had a huge impact on me as a writer.
IM: What is it about them that has inspired you?
TV: Jeph Loeb’s Batman comics are my favorite Batman comics and are among my favorite comics in general. I was always amazed at his ability to have so many characters in one book, but the book never seems crowded. Roy Thomas is one of few writers to capture the spirit of Conan the way Robert E. Howard intended. Edgar Allen Poe is one of the greatest American writers of all time. His horror stories have had a huge impact on me as a writer. The Cask of Amontillado is one of my favorite short stories. Robert E. Howard’s fast paced action and adventure stories have had a huge impact on me. He had the ability to blend great adventure plots with hints of horror and bizarre monsters.
IM: What training or life experiences have you had that got you into writing?
TV: I read a ‘how to write comic scripts’ book to get a better understanding of the comic script format.
IM: Could you describe your writing process? How do you travel from inspiration to publication?
TV: I spend a lot of time thinking about potential ideas. Once I feel strongly about an idea, I will give it a lot of thought and then write it. I will then look for artists and that would be a good fit for the comic. I then look for publishers or think about self-publishing.
IM: How did you come to create The Protector?
TV: That was the first comic project I ever worked on. I created that web comic to get my name out there.
IM: Could you give us an overview?
TV: It takes place in the future, where an evil man named Eyi rules the earth with an iron fist. The Inventor and The Protector fight against him in hopes of restoring peace to Earth.
IM: And since then, you’ve gone on to self-publish another six titles! What can you share with us about them?
TV: I published the three-issue Tales of Trolik fantasy series. I then published the anthology Mysterious Comics and the science fiction comic Vaxdor and The Ikton Conflict. My most popular self-published project was the two-issue Ghostly Comics anthology. I also published three minicomics: Vaxdor and The Intruders and two all-ages books featuring a character called “Furry Qaileny.”
IM: Your latest offering, Vincent Price Presents: In the Shadows just came out last month. Care to tease?
TV: Vincent Price Presents: In The Shadows #1 is published by Storm Comics. I am very happy to be a part of this project. I have been a fan of Vincent Price since I was very young. It was very surreal to write a comic featuring such an iconic actor! The story has elements of horror and tragedy, and takes place in the 1950s.
IM: What was the spark that set the ball rolling?
TV: I was in contact with the publisher and that led to me writing the comic for them.
IM: You’ve got a new art team this outing. How did you hook up with them?
TV: The artist J.C. Grande drew another comic I wrote called “The Duel,” that was published in Indie Comics Magazine #10. I am very happy that he is also a part of the Vincent Price project. The other members of the team were picked by the publisher.
IM: Is there any sort of common thread or theme that runs through your stories?
TV: Not really. I tend to write many different types of stories.
IM: Overall, how have you found the self-publishing experience?
TV: I think it is a good way for someone to make a name for themself in such a large community. It does, however, take a lot of time and effort to market the books and make they are available in as many places as possible.
IM: Could you share with us a bit of good advice that you got when you started making or publishing comics and/or a lesson you learned firsthand?
TV: I think the most important thing for someone who is just starting out is to make sure they get their name out there. I suggest self-publishing, writing web comics and getting into as many anthologies as you can. Once someone gets enough credits to their name, they will have greater opportunities. I also think a lot of patience is very important.
IM: You’ve also had some of your stories appear in comics anthologies. How has that experience been?
TV: It has been great! I think anthologies are a great way to get my work out there to as many people as possible.
IM: How are you handling the sales and marketing end of things?
TV: I have my comics for sale on Comixology, Drive Thru Comics and Store Envy.
IM: What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you? Any new projects on your horizons?
TV: I am working on a new self-published project that is almost finished. It should be out sometime this year. I continue to submit scripts to anthologies and publishers.
IM: Finally, how can our readers keep up with you and your work?